Tens of thousands of young Israelis,
aged 18, get out of their beds early, every morning, on their commanders’ orders. At times they must wake up after only few hours of sleep and report to roll call within seconds. During the day they will eat little, invest immense efforts in training, give up many pleasures, and stand guard at nights. They will dedicate their finest years to a noble goal.
Indeed, I’m referring to IDF
soldiers, but not only to them. Try to dive for a moment into the world of a yeshiva student:
He is young and is surrounded by a cultural world replete with temptations. He gives up television, movies, sex and entertainment, and instead voluntarily enters a boarding school where his whole world revolves around the Torah.
The yeshiva is home to hard-working students who sometimes read a book for 18 hours a day; the vast majority of yeshiva students are there at least 10 hours a day, mulling philosophical and legal issues in the Talmud.
One of the essential components in the moral world of a yeshiva student is asceticism, the abstention from bodily pleasures. He is willing to live a life of poverty, eat meagerly, sleep on a thin mattress, and avoid sex until marriage. Despite this, he will still torture himself over any moral failure he experiences and his conscience will ache over minor sins or mild hedonism.
A yeshiva student also jumps out of bed in the morning when his commander yells at him to wake up, yet the commander is the inner voice in his heart; the same voice that shapes the refined ideology one adheres to.
At this time I do not study at a yeshiva, because the abovementioned lifestyle is not fit for every young haredi. However, I can still admire those who choose this kind of life. Hence, I think that before we burn a highly moral community at the stake, we better understand who these people are.
Solutions are obviously needed for the thousands of haredim who are at the yeshiva yet are unfit for this kind of life. I discussed this issue with friends at the yeshiva countless times as we tried to come up with solutions. The conversations always went like this: Perhaps we should go out and work? No, if we do, we’ll have to join the army. Maybe we should perform civil service? No, this service is only for those aged 22 and above. Perhaps we should turn to academic studies? Again the army problem emerges. So maybe we should join the army? What? After we “wasted” a few years at the yeshiva we’ll “waste” three more years?!
In summation, I wish and hope that the solutions will be found for the thousands of young people who cannot continue with yeshiva studies, and that we won’t see capitulation to haredi politicians who are only interested in maintaining the present situation. At the same time, I hope that the public discourse will be cleared of the patronization and preaching, because the world of yeshiva students is a moral one.
Yehuda Kotkes is a graduate of the haredi Hebron yeshiva, performs civil service, and is a student in Beit Shemesh